Sunday, 9 March 2014

ON: Colourism

"Colourism - prejudice or discrimination based on the relative lightness or darkness of the skin. Generally a phenomenon occurring within one's own ethnic group"

Before we delve into the issue of colourism, or any prejudice experienced against a body of people based on the shade or hue of their skin tone, it is necessary to first discuss the history of how such a preference for a particular shade of skin came to exist. Most, if not all educated people will be familiar with black history. Let it suffice for me to simply say that black people were enslaved for over 200 years, during which point, they were not even considered to be human. Let alone any discussion of beauty. Beauty is an entirely new phenomenon post-enslavement, and the dimensions of this paradoxical beauty have weighed heavily in favour of white supremacy. 

During the 18th and 19th century enslavement period, black female slaves were raped by their masters, producing mixed-race, light skin children. Although not provided the luxurious lifestyle of full 'white breeds', this shade of children were pitted above their dark skinned-relatives, who were quarantined in field labour, while the light skinned slaves were promoted to house slaves. A step above. Eventually, the 'paper bag test' was conducted as a means of identifying an accepted level of 'black.' If you were lighter than the brown paper bag, you passed the test. As well as the 'snow and blow' ideal - if your skin is as white as snow and your hair blows in the wind, you are beautiful by default. Although archaic and hugely fascist, this social pyramid inspired the frameworks of society as we know it today. Although slavery is now 'illegal', there is a type of racism that is still heavily present, heavily toxic and completely inexorable - colourism. The belief in hundreds and thousands of ethnic groups all over the world, including black, asian, and hispanic, that dark skin is inferior to light skin. 

Colourism has its roots embedded deeply in the history of colonisation. Countries annexed by European colonialism were imbued with a false perception of beauty based on an ideal of white supremacy. The stature of the oppressor was considered iconic, for his greatness has allowed widespread annexation, and thus it was taught that a dissimilarity with the coloniser was a dissolution from 'greatness.' Young, impressionable minds were geared towards the appraisal and pursuit of white power. Meaning that, a venture towards "white" appearance was not only considered favourable in the realm of beauty, but would also win you greater opportunities and edge you closer to greatness. Sadly, this ideal lives on unabated. 

In todays society, the contorted idea of beauty in colourism is often advocated within ones own ethnic group. Watching documentaries on the subject, women speak of being told from an early age to "improve the race", meaning not to marry black, and if so, to marry 'light'. The concept of dark skin is marred by European preeminence, so young girls are taught to aspire towards breeding lighter children. Not only is this a bleak desideratum, but beyond inhibiting a future generation of dark skinned children, it is also resulting in severe bouts of low-self esteem leading to self harm and suicide. Children are brought into a world where they are told (inadvertently - by society) that their skin colour is inferior or undesirable, and far from learning to love themselves, generally the optimum outcome of this discrimination is purely self-acceptance and nothing beyond it. Beauty is almost another universe for young people scathed by societal ignorance.   

Lupita Nyong'o speaks openly abour her struggle growing up as a dark-skinned child. She exclaims that in her youth, she would pray to God for fairer skin, and would bargain with him that if he would grant her this one wish, that she would stop stealing sugar cubes. This is heart-wrenching for me to hear, but at the same time I am glad that somebody who has acquired a certain clout in the industry is now speaking openly about the austerity of this issue. It seems there are a generation of young girls (and boys) who have been left to suffer in silence for a lack of public outcry on an issue that has been comfortably embraced worldwide. Children are taught from an early age that all 'greatness' emanates from European or Western civilisation. All the great thinkers, philosophisers, writers and poets hailed from France to Germany, from Shakespeare to Freud to Nietzsche. History has been written to strongly favour European predominance and downplay black eminence. Very little, if anything is widely known about real black history other than their history of enslavement which is pitched to us as the most notable historical occurrence in black history. It is shocking that people are not aware that black history did not begin with slavery. So if young children are taught that the history of their ancestors came from something so volatile and ferociously negative, logic permits them to aspire far from it. What needs to happen is that children, of all races, need to be educated properly. Especially in the dimensions of black history. People in general tend to accept the notion that precolonial-Africans were barbaric with no social inclination until they were 'taught' how to live by the white man (Yes, these words really do come out of peoples mouths, i'm not making this up). But if teachings begin with the representation of black people as slaves and victims of American and European civilisation, then those are the means by which thinking and partiality will prevail. Centuries upon centuries of African King and Queendom have been lost in the muddiness of a reassembled history. We are not taught about the thriving economy of the 14th Century Malian Empire and the intellectual center of Timbuktu. It is important that people are re-educated to appreciate that civilisation was rampant in precolonial-Africa, such to rival or even surpass western civilisation at its time. If children are taught the truth of their ancestors, a deeper sense of cultural acceptance can be awakened, because they will no longer be forever escaping the shackles of slavery but instead be aspiring to the greatness in their own heritage. 

Until people understand the toxicity of promoting a bias towards lighter skin types, we will never be able to sanitise the repercussions. Generations of people are blindly following the same ideal that is inherent to their own community. Because the issue is not refuted, most young children will not find the courage to protest against it in the fears that their voice will be lost, or worse yet, disparaged. Openly humiliated. To change the minds of their peers is deemed too great a challenge, so instead of finding greatness in themselves, they are taught to look for greatness outside of themselves. There is no large-scale champion that exists for black beauty or greatness on this planet. When mothers speak openly of their dismay of having a dark-skinned child, (i've heard this with my own ears) what hope does that child have when their own mother is partisan to white supremacy?

This issue is not exclusive to black communities. Societies, including India and Dubai, where skin colour is heavily dissipated, suffer mass subjugation of dark skinned people - who are affiliated with the lowest cast and can only attain jobs in the lowest ranks of manual labour. Countries such as India still utilise casting systems which pit the 'fairer skinned' people as higher casts and associate them with beauty and intelligence - as seen in every Bollywood movie. The lighter the actress, the more beautiful she is considered, and is even airbrushed further to appear lighter. Fair creams are a huge commodity in these countries, where mass billboards are strategically placed to promote this ideal, even in knowing the medical dangers affiliated with it - namely skin cancer (let alone the ethical dangers.) In this society, unfortunately, darker skinned Indian women will have a harder time reaching these apocryphal utopian heights, since the community pyramid illustrates and consistently reinforces the notion that those with darker skin are affiliated with a lack of education and unintelligence (slave labours). Thus, the system dictates that these people are crippled with glass ceilings that prevent them from fruitful educations and are ultimately forced to seek employment in the lowest rankings. And the vicious cycle is perpetuated, lack of education leads to an affiliation with inferiority, and the perception of inferiority is bred through disabling sufficient education to those with a certain skin colour. The fact that the current social stature of these countries is based on something as farcical as a casting system which should have been obliterated centuries ago is harrowing. Fair creams are still used all over the world. In a world where Caucasian is NOT the dominant skin colour, but is championed as the beauty ideal in universal media. 

What's all the more worrying to me is that the reality of the CURRENT  situation in the world is staggering. I have a friend from London who is currently teaching in India. Needless to say that not a day goes by where she does not experience or witness some sort of segregation based on skin colour, including dark-skinned labourers who maintain the land in scorching weather conditions and are not permitted to dwell in affluent 'light skinned' areas, nor are they even provided basic human rights as labourers. However, aside from that atrocity, one thing she mentioned almost had me in tears. A class of children that she was teaching had arranged themselves in order of their 'casts' or colours before she had arrived. The dark skinned children positioned themselves in the back and the light skinned children sat at the front, so the closer you got to the back, the darker the child and vice versa. What moved me more than anything was the way these children had just accepted, without question, their fate and apparent 'inferiority.' It was nothing to be questioned, it was just their reality. They knew no different.  I have never wanted to get on a plane so much, and have crass, threatening words with the school ministers, as well as just taking the children by the hand and rearranging their seating to present a fair arrangement. But either way, I wonder how much difference that would make to children who will grow up in a society where 'fairness' is espoused regardless. The children who strategically placed themselves at the back of the classroom will presumably find it difficult to find the confidence to excel in education, as they are constantly fighting against the tide in their society, and because of the contorted history we are taught, these children will learn to feel that they are reaching beyond their means by striving for an education and/or success. Dark skinned actresses need to receive a higher fraction of roles in Bollywood movies in order to reshuffle the current perception of beauty and break through the glass ceilings. This has to be openly acted against - The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This problem will not solve itself until society reaches out and solves it conclusively. The only reason dark skinned people are affiliated with manual labour and a lack of education in these countries is because those are the circumstances that are enforced upon them. They are not given the opportunity to thrive beyond those means, and thus they are branded outcasts and inferior in their society. 

The crux of this issue is born through the media. This is two fold. 1 - The constant promotion and reinforcement of the white woman as the pinnacle of beauty. If not entirely white, then the closest thing to white possible, i.e light skinned black women with european hair. 2. The negligence and downcast of the severity and existence of colourism in the media. Where do you see this issue being raised? Because it does not compete with the austerity of a holocaust, minor niceties in the realm of attitude to skin colours are acceptable or at least tolerable. But they are by no means acute - infecting a generation of children with lifelong subjugation and inferiority complexes. Young children suffer from extreme cases of low self esteem and lack of confidence. This prohibits the pursuit of their dreams, due to a belief that the shade of their skin bridles prosperity. Kelly Rowland (former Destiny's Child member/Singer) speaks openly about the issues she grappled with growing up. She professes that she had a hard time embracing the 'chocolatiness' of her skin tone, and experienced extreme levels of colourism in the dominion of the career she sought. It can be argued that Beyonce was at the forefront of the group for being more talented, more ambitious and more driven - which eventually culminated in the success of her solo career. But there is also a dark twist in this parable, perhaps if we did not exist in a society of white supremacy, women of a darker skin tone would find the confidence, 'ambition', and 'drive' to pursue such alpine heights. Even Black-American rappers who promote intense approbation of their black ancestry and speak out openly against racism, feature predominantly light-skinned women as the models and dancers in their music videos. This negates their 'promotion' of anti-racism and muddies the notion of skin tone impartiality.

Lest we forget Beyonce's infamous L'oreal commercial, where she appeared conspicuously lighter than her organic skin tone. Even black women who are 'accepted' in society, who even soar to unparalleled heights of the music and entertainment industry (don't be misled though - they are still not the CEO'S behind or above it) are light-skinned black women. Beyonce, Rihanna, Ciara, Tyra Banks, Mariah Carey, Hale berry, Alicia Keys, need I go on? 

Jay Z raps in 'thats my bitch':
"I mean Marilyn Monroe, she's quite nice but why all the pretty icons always all white? / Put some colored girls in the MoMA /Half these broads ain’t got nothing on Willona / Don’t make me bring Thelma in it /Bring Halle, bring Penélope and Salma in it /

I always have to chuckle when I hear that line, because even in trying to promote black beauty he does a shoddy job. The 'coloured' girls he speaks of are no darker than an 'accepted' shade of brown. Dark-skinned beauty is rarely embraced in the media. Aside from current developments that are empowering young black women like Lupita (this is, of course, few and far between). Overall, the perception of black beauty has not yet been adopted widely enough in the media. Black hair is not embraced. Dark skin is not embraced. Black bodies were not even embraced until Jennifer Lopez made it fashionable to have a big bum (subsequently Kim K.). All things associated with black ancestry were/are thwarted until made acceptable, or even fashionable by the white woman/man. But the outcome (acceptance of specific black features) is not effective enough to reach our desired goal. The fact that something associated with black beauty was not organically embraced and internationally endorsed without white infiltration is unacceptable. Subsequent to the minor endorsement of cultural disparity, what has now grown to be the 'ideal' in society is light-skinned black women with european features, a big bum and 'white' hair. This is a bigoted and FALSE standard of beauty for young black children to aspire towards. Although it is not openly stated, the adverse is frequently and chiefly promoted as the pinnacle of beauty in society.These are unattainable, falsely utopian ideals. They encourage people to believe that success, beauty and power come in 'lighter' packages, hence why skin bleaching is as shamefully common as it is. 

Even removed from media, commodities replicate white supremacy all over the world. Children's dolls are all white, and Barbie, who is considered the absolute pinnacle of beauty - is conspicuously caucasion with blonde hair and blue eyes. Black dolls are uncommon, aside from the standard token black dolls to meagrely satiate (basic) public demand of a particular demographic. But even black barbie has "white" hair and no curves, and her skin is an 'acceptable' or 'favourable' shade of brown. I find it highly odd that in a world where white is not the dominant skin colour, everything that is dominant in the world is white. When i have children, i will make sure that my daughters dolls come in a variety of shades that reflect a realistic microcosm of society. I remember once playing the game where you write a name on someones forehead and they have to guess which celebrity it is. I picked Princess Jasmine for someone. She asked "am I white?" I said "No." This caused her to scratch her head and say "What? I'm a disney princess but i'm not white?" That says just about everything in a nutshell. 

One of the biggest platforms upon which this issue is finding preeminence is on social media websites such as Instagram and Twitter. I might even say that I was blissfully unaware (ignorant) of the severity of shadeism until i witnessed first hand a division on social media between light and dark skinned people. What has now formed all across the internet are 'cliques' that promote light skin as superior, and the ultimate semblance of black beauty.

Her last hashtag says "Hyena looking darkies." What message is this sending to young, impressionable people? In no way should any skin tone be advocated as superior. Let alone to suggest that one shade be jealous of the other. I posted this on my page a while ago. It was a discussion that I had with the original poster, who claimed it was all in jest and vehemently denied any overtones of racism. She claimed that a lot of her family were dark-skinned, and the dark-skinned friends that she has know it was a joke. However, in my post i mention that even if some jokes are made like this on a personal level, to openly promote the superiority of one shade over another has serious and long lasting ramifications that prevent certain skin shades excelling in beauty related industries, since they flood into the professional world, prohibiting employment of dark-skinned actresses, models and entertainers. Granted, I was attacked left, right and centre by her friends, referred to as a 'basic bitch' and sent on my way. Needless to say I did not lose a wink of sleep. It is always important to stand up for what you believe is right, no matter how much fire you come under in the process. 

What is required is a cognitive overhaul of beauty ideals. If children are taught from a young age to 'improve the race' and 'marry light', then at this rate, ignorance will drive out the beautiful kaleidoscope of our skin tones before we outdrive ignorance. 

All in all - this entire notion is appalling, archaic and embarrassing. Firstly, the entire fair cream industry should be abolished on both an ethical and medical account (who thought of that?). It is culpable for two of the worlds biggest fatalities, skin cancer and low self esteem (which can lead to suicide). Secondly, we must reprogram the generally accepted perception of beauty in our society. It is time for a renaissance, a cultural rebirth, an ethical reformat. Thirdly, actively working towards the abolishment of casting systems that disallow equality and justice, as well as basic human rights in societies that encompass inexcusable apartheid. Massive steps must be taken, including essentially restructuring government in a lot of these countries where welfare systems curtail the excelling of darker shades and lower casts, and which lean towards a societal dissipation in rankings of employment based on skin colour. And finally, to consider every shade beautiful, to awaken people to the reality of the situation, to speak openly when we see situations where people are discriminated against based on their skin colour  (even if it is just an instagram 'joke') and to reprogram the perception of 'beauty' in our society. To dismantle from colonial duplicity, that has subjected an entire nation to favour white supremacy, and to reach a stage where we are all essentially colour blind.

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